This past weekend I was a counselor at this Muslim youth conference held by members from the various Michigan youth groups. Imagine a weekend filled with lectures, workshops, and bonding activities with 250 Muslim youth ranging from age 12-19 and more than 30 counselors! It was quite a sight…especially when everyone was entering and leaving the Hyatt every morning and night. We had heads turning like fans on high speed. Okay maybe not on high speed…but you get the point.
Anyhow, usually I’m usually not a huge fan of these conferences only because they are really mediocre and plain content-wise. The topics discussed are predictable no matter what the theme.
• Renewing intentions
• Struggling for God’s Cause
• Having good character
• Restraining from Sinning
• Treating parents with respect
• And of course…the infamous “Gender Relations” workshop where everyone gets to pour their little hearts out about how hard it is to stay away the temptation of the opposite gender.
Actually, the conference is really cool when you look at the topics in retrospect because it addresses the struggles of the Muslim youth here in West. One of my favorite topics to study is the struggles or challenges facing Muslim youth in the West…because everyone is having the same issue: how do I maintain my Islamic and American identity as one?
To some people it seems really difficult, like the two are almost impossible to converge. But that’s wrong. Just look at me and CA…we’re always talking about how American we are. Probably because we’re not boaters. =D
No, but really. What does it mean to be a Muslim youth? And what does it mean to be an American? To be Muslim in laymen terms is to submit completely to God to earn His Pleasure and to ultimately enter Paradise if we successfully fulfill our purpose of worshiping only Him. Personally, I think it’s such a simple concept. God has created this universe and everything in it and we must worship Him because no one else can have the status that He does as the Creator and Originator of everything. To be American in laymen terms is to have the freedom to do what you aspire to accomplish and reach in your life.
What if I aspire to be an awesome Muslim citizen in the US? I’m fulfilling both ‘identities,’ right? Exactly.
So where does the problem come in? Pop culture, at least I think so. Pop culture is actually not something unique to us Americans. You’ll find it everywhere you go, even Muslim countries. The issue here about whether you believe following pop culture is part of your American-ness. I personally don’t think it is. I don’t listen to the latest jams about lust and desire, or watch movies filled with sexual content, or fall into consumerism, buying every new Abercrombie tee or Hollister jeans. I don’t swear, or rebel against my parents thinking its civil disobedience, or sneak out of the house at 12 am to go to a party filled with drugs and alcohol. I don’t have a boyfriend, play beer pong, or go to the mall all the time with my friends as a pastime. Does abstaining from these so-called ‘funs’* make me less American than my birth certificate claims I am?
Because I choose to uphold my Islamic values and I’m proud to say that I have the American freedom to do so. Thus I can confidently say that I’m a Muslim American without any contradictions.
So what does all this have to do with the kids at the conference I was at? This conference was trying to teach these kids (boys and girls) that you can be you and you can be American and you can be Muslim at the same time. They’re not mutually exclusive. Because if you think about it, who will your peers respect more? The religious kid who is nice to everyone or the kid who is a slave to pop culture and is cocky about it?
Okay I have so many other reflections from the conference….things I learned from my 15 year old girls over the course of the weekend. But this post is getting too long...so maybe another day.
*Pop culture totally limits and constricts our image of “fun.” Pop culture tells us that going to the movies every weekend is fun. You know what’s funner (and way cheaper)? Playing Apple-to-Apples and drinking virgin mojitos with your girlfriends on a Friday night. =D Pop culture tells us romantic dates over candlelit dinners are fun. I think sitting out at night on my roof staring at the bright stars with a good friend is fun. Just ask CC.